Blinded by Doomsday Predictions Masquerading as Science
Conservatives? Anti-science? No way! Science created fuel-burning engines, harnessed electricity, and ushered in an industrial revolution that transformed the world. Science found cures for malaria, tuberculosis, and polio; expanded the world's food supply many times over; significantly lengthened life expectancy; and put men on the moon. And then, just when it seemed nothing more was even possible, science — specifically computer technology — transformed the world yet again. Cyber-wonders emerge on an almost daily basis, enhancing our lives in ways we could only have imagined a generation ago.
No, folks, we have no quarrel with science. But we have a serious problem with something masquerading as science: the manipulation of facts and data to create fearful predictive models. These "scientific" statistical models often tend to cast the freedom we enjoy in a negative light, and they almost always end up being wrong. Let us amble down the Memory Lane of five decades and revisit some of the terrifying events the learned practitioners of this branch of science once assured us would occur. No doubt, you will recall many of them:
By 1980, city-dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution.
By 1985, air pollution will block 50% of the sunlight reaching Earth, causing global cooling.
By 1989, the population explosion and resulting food shortages will result in mass starvation ("The Great Die-Off"), in which 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, will perish.
By 1990, all lead, zinc, tin, silver, and gold reserves will be gone.
By 2000, global crude oil reserves will be gone.
By 2000, global temperatures will be 11 degrees cooler, and we will be in a new Ice Age.
On January 1, 2000 ("Y2K"), computers will go haywire and plunge the civilized world into chaos.
As the 21st century progresses, stronger Katrina-like hurricanes will occur more frequently.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic will possibly result in as many as 2.2 million U.S. deaths.
Admittedly, the jury is still out on COVID-19, but given that the current U.S. death toll — depending on which CDC website you visit — is either about 47,000 or 78,000, it is highly unlikely fatalities will reach 2.2 million. Indeed, they may not even surpass the 100,000 Americans who died of seasonal flu in 1968 or the 116,000 who died in 1957. (Note: The U.S. economy did not shut down in either of those years, and we survived.)
It is important to emphasize that these ill fated prognostications were not made by carnival hucksters or Times Square loons in sandwich boards; they were the work of highly respected scientists and statisticians, widely publicized in the national media. All were taken seriously at the time.
Thanks to today's "scientists" and their "scientific" COVID-19 models, daily life in 2020 has turned into a dystopian nightmare of home confinement, latex gloves, hand sanitizer–hoarding, and toilet paper shortages. The once routine trip to the supermarket is now an empty-shelved, grotesque costume party in which our former neighbors have all donned face masks and morphed into Hannibal Lecter and Lord Humungus, Warrior of the Wasteland. Are the face masks really keeping us safe, or will we one day look back and laugh, the way we laugh at that "duck and cover" atom bomb movie from the 1950s? Time will tell.
But what is happening to the US economy is surely no laughing matter. In just weeks, massive business closures have left tens of millions of Americans jobless and terrified they may not be able to afford food and shelter for themselves and their families. The businesses closed not because of poor economic conditions — they were ordered closed by panicked government officials who relied on "scientific" health warnings so dire that economic considerations mattered not at all. Heaven forbid that our desperate, unemployed American brothers and sisters dare peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The government, media, and even some of their fellow citizens (most of whom, you may notice, are employed or at least financially secure) will mock them and vilify them as reckless fools, ignorant haters, racists, and fascists. The protesters and their families are starving? Let them eat gourmet ice cream.
What will happen if, after the COVID-19 frenzy has passed, we finally accept that our esteemed scientists' projections were out of proportion all along and that the government's devastating overreaction was unnecessary? (2.2 million U.S. deaths...really?) Who will be there to apologize and take responsibility for killing 33 million citizens' livelihoods and leaving our prosperous economy — and the U.S. Constitution — in shambles? Augustus Caesar is famously said to have wailed in anguish, "Varus, give me back my legions!" after his general allowed three Roman legions to be led into the Teutoburg Forest, where Germanic warriors ambushed and massacred them. When we wail, "Dr. Fauci, give us back our prosperity!," will it be too late? Perhaps we will hear a reprise of Otter's lame response to Flounder in Animal House after Flounder's brother's car was wrecked: "You f----- up...you trusted us!"
A great many scientists are brilliant, learned, and accomplished. But here's the thing — even the best scientists are sometimes wrong! Science is a never-ending process of learning through questioning and testing, trial and error — or at least it was until recently. Nowadays, "science" seems instead to be about reaching consensus and then silencing any further discussion. Remember those campus radicals back in the 1980s with their "Question Authority" t-shirts? What became of them? Could it be they are now the ones in power? Because these days, it sure seems that when science, government, and the media proclaim a predictive model to be the undisputed truth, questioning authority is no longer cool. We Deplorables are expected to question nothing, shut up, knuckle under, and go with the flow. Anyone who challenges "settled science" will be branded a "science denier" and shunned. (Good thing Copernicus, Einstein and so many others managed to challenge "settled science" before these rules went into effect. Otherwise we might all still be taught the Earth is probably flat and the center of the universe.)
We need to respect science, but we must stop blindly accepting scientists' unproven doomsday predictions. Medical scientists all over are coming up with promising treatments for COVID-19, and without a doubt, there will soon be an effective vaccine. It will be effective not because of a dazzling theoretical model, but because it has been tested and works. Now, that's the kind of science we can, and should, all celebrate.
Andrew Gilbertson is the Editor of BeigePage.